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1. What is mediation?
Mediation in special education is a process to assist parents and schools in resolving disagreements regarding the education program of a student with disabilities. Mediation is a voluntary process. It is optional for both parties. The mediation session is confidential and encourages open communication.
2. Who conducts the mediation?
A trained mediator works with both parties to guide them toward a mutually satisfactory solution. Individuals selected to serve as mediators have successfully completed a training program in mediation with additional training in special education issues. In addition to the initial training, mediators will participate in annual in-service to ensure updating of appropriate information and skills.
Mediators are selected on the basis of these qualifications:
A. Neutrality, both real and perceived
B. Knowledge of special education and the needs of students
C. Knowledge of the process of mediation
D. Appropriate personal communication skills
3. How is a mediator appointed?
The Special Education Resolution Center (SERC) maintains a list of trained mediators. The SERC appoints a neutral mediator from that list who carries out all of the mediation activities.
4. What is the role of the mediator?
The mediator is a neutral third party acting as a facilitator to assist parents and school personnel in reaching an agreement. The mediator does not take sides. Although the mediator is in control of the session, the mediator does not make the decision on how to resolve the issue(s). The mediator allows parties to present their positions and attempts to achieve mutual understanding and a solution to the problem in the best interests of the student.
The mediator facilitates the process. He or she summarizes positions and helps the parties consider possible alternatives.
5. What is the role of parents and the school?
The parties are expected to approach the mediation in good faith and with the intention of reaching an agreement. They will be active participants in the session, and, if mediation is successful, will develop an agreement with the assistance of the mediator.
6. Can the parents or the school bring an attorney?
Yes. The parties understand that mediation is not a substitute for independent legal advice. The parties may secure independent legal advice throughout the mediation process. The parties are responsible for their own legal fees.
7. If I request mediation does the other party have to participate?
No. Mediation is voluntary. Both parties to the dispute have to agree to use mediation. Even though the other party is not required to agree to mediate, under most circumstances the other party will give it a try if asked.
8. What is the cost of mediation?
Mediation takes place at no cost to the parties. There is no charge to either party for the cost of the mediator. However, parties who choose to involve their attorneys are responsible for their own attorney fees.
Mediators are paid by the Special Education Resolution Center under a contract with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
9. When can I ask for mediation?
Anytime. Disagreements and conflict are often inevitable, but they need not produce negative results. If the parent and school are unable to resolve a conflict concerning a student with a disability, then mediation is an available alternative to continued conflict or even a long and expensive due process hearing. Conflict is best resolved at the earliest stage of any dispute.
10. What happens when we reach an agreement?
The mediator will draft an agreement for both parties to sign. Both parties will receive a copy.
11. What happens if either of the parties does not honor the agreement?
The written signed mediation agreement is legally binding and enforceable in any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States.
12. What happens if we got to mediation and we do not reach an agreement?
Unfortunately, the parties will remain in conflict. You may use other options to try and resolve the dispute. You may attempt mediation again at a later time or you may seek some other means of resolving the dispute. Other procedural safeguards are available to the parties such as filing a state complaint or filing for a due process hearing. If the mediation occurred as part of the due process activities, then the unresolved matter will proceed to hearing.
13. Can either party use discussion or offers from the mediation session in future proceedings?
No. The discussion during the mediation session is completely confidential, and there will be no disclosure of any information give by either party. At the conclusion of the session, and in the presence of the parties, the mediator may destroy any notes he/she has taken during the session. The only part of the mediation session that may be shared with other persons is the written agreement.
The mediator will be excluded from participation in subsequent proceedings – staffings, complaint investigations and due process hearings. Nothing occurring at a mediation session is admissible as evidence in a due process hearing. The written agreement may be admissible in subsequent proceedings. No electronic recording of the mediation sessions will be allowed and no records of the actual proceedings will be kept other than written agreements in successful mediations.
14. Can documents discussed during mediation be used in future proceedings?
Yes. If it is necessary in a mediation to look at a document (such as an Individual Educational Plan) during mediation, the document itself may still be used in a future proceeding.
15. How soon is mediation scheduled after a request is made?
Mediation cannot be assigned to a mediator until both parties have agreed to use the process. In addition to the signed agreement of both parties, the parents must sign consent for release of confidential information to permit this office and the school district (or public agency responsible for the education of the student) to release information to the assigned mediator.
Once both parties have submitted signed agreements to mediate and the parents have signed the release, the mediation will be scheduled in a timely manner which works for the parties. Mediation may not be used to deny or delay your right to a due process hearing.
16. How do I request mediation?
Submit a Parent or School District Agreement to Mediate to the Special Education Resolution Center, Oklahoma State University, 4825 S. Peoria, Suite 2, Tulsa, OK 74105 or fax it to 1-918-712-9058. If you need further information you may contact 1-918-712-9632 or 1-888-267-0028 (toll free).
17. Where can I find the required forms?
Visit http://serc.okstate.edu for the required forms. You will find them by clicking on the left hand links of mediation: resources: request for mediation. You do not need to submit a particular form. These forms are used for your convenience. This office will respond to any written request for mediation made by a party. At a minimum, the request should identify the party making the request and a contact phone number.